Never before has our planet contained so many older people, or such a large percentage of them. In the United States each year, more than 3.5 million Baby Boomers turn 55. Their swelling numbers predict that, by 2012, America’s 50 and older population will reach 100 million. This dramatic growth in numbers and proportions, increased life expectancies, and energetic life styles, now enables people to live 20 to 25 percent of their lives in active retirement.
This is actually great news – but – on the other side of the coin, global economies will have trouble sustaining themselves in coming years as the number of people leaving workforces dramatically outpaces the number of workers entering. Also, there’s going to be a huge demand for services but less people paying taxes and actually doing the needed work.
According to a new analysis on global aging from Standard & Poor, the irreversible rate at which the population is aging will likely influence the future of national economic health, public finances and national policies – and most developed countries are not properly prepared.
Some ideas being suggested currently involve:
1. Influential international organizations like the G20 and other governmental agencies as well as companies and academic institutions placing aging as a real cause, in a similar manner as they have regarded the environment.
2. Curbing the growth of medical spending ahead of the looming financial crisis.
3. Extending the official ages of retirement
These ideas are all important to explore, but they are far-far away from being a panacea. These are important social measures, but mankind needs something that will achieve greater results than the ideas listed above as those serve as merely good intentions which will most likely result in meaningless debates for the next 10 years – and no action.
Other schools of thought on this from biogerontologists and longevity experts including myself believe that the focus should be about making the elderly population less of a burden on the healthcare system and more productive in the workforce for longer periods of time through a global initiative on combating aging. To truly combat this crisis, a mass-scale collaborative effort similar in size to the Manhattan Project or the Apollo Project is needed so that the mechanisms that cause us to age can be identified and better understood. This kind of undertaking should have single leadership and massive funding. The main research direction of this project would include regenerative medicine, genome regulation, neuroscience, immunosenescence, endocrinology of aging, drug design, etc. Therapies can then be created to fight the major illnesses and diseases of our time allowing for a functional working population of people beyond the age of 70.
The other way to tackle this problem could be through initiating a change in retirement policies where retirement would be dependant upon biological causes as opposed to chronological age. Insurance companies could pay for appropriate medical testing to determine health status, which would be an important measure in itself. Under this scenario, individuals would be more motivated to keep their health optimized because good health would be more valuable in terms of earning potential as compared to a small monthly pension.
A third, important concept would be advocating for longevity. A strong social movement would need to be initiated that would reinforce our right to longer and healthier lives. Ideas such as creating a University for adults could be created where older individuals could acquire new skills for re-entry into new professions. We need to fight for our health, our youth, but certainly not for pensions.